Roth Surname Meaning, History & Origin

Roth Surname Meaning

The Roth surname is Germanic in origin. The most likely explanation of the name is that it derived from the German rot meaning “red” and was perhaps at first a nickname for someone with red hair. However, there have been many explanations.

Roth is also Jewish. It first appeared as an ornamental name in the 18th century when Jewish Ashkenazi refugees were arriving in Germany from the Balkans and Turkish Empire.

Roth Surname Resources on The Internet

Roth Surname Ancestry

  • from Germany (Bavaria) and from Jewish emigrants
  • to America, England and Australia

The Rote spelling first appeared in Germany in the 12th century. Roth appeared as a place-name in Bavaria and the Rhineland-Palatinate. Roth as a surname seems to have had its origins in Bavaria.

One family from Wunsiedel in NE Bavaria dates from the early 1500’s. Heinrich Roth was a Jesuit missionary who grew up in Augsburg in south Bavaria in the 1600’s.

The name spread across Germany’s southern borders into Switzerland, Austria, and Hungary. The legend of Hans Roth of Rumisberg in the Swiss canton of Bern dates back to 1382. Johannes Roth was a Burgomeister at Basel in 1444. The Rott name was recorded among Swiss Anabaptists in the 1530’s; while Hans Roth was preaching at Kitzbuhel in Austria at that time.

The Roth numbers today are approximately:

  • 70,000 in Germany (with the largest numbers in Munich)
  • 5,000 in Switzerland
  • 3,000 in Austria
  • and 1,000 in Hungary.

Roth arrivals in the US were mainly from these four countries. Some also came from what was then the Russian Empire.

England. There were a few instances of Roth being a native English name. But most Roths in England, mostly found in London, have come from Germanic immigrants. Mathias Roth who arrived in the 1840’s as a Hungarian refugee became a well-known London medical practitioner.

America. Many early Roths from Germany who came to Pennsylvania changed their name to the more anglicized Rhoads or Rhodes:

  • Johann Rodt, for instance, arrived in Philadelphia from Wurttemberg with his wife and three sons in 1717. They settled in what became Berks county. The family spelling here was sometimes Roth, but subsequently became Rhoads.
  • Heinrich Roth arrived from the German Palatinate in t737 and later settled as Henry Rhoads in Frederick county, Maryland.
  • while Anthony Roth, also from Wurttemberg, came in 1752 and settled in York county, Pennsylvania. His children were Rhodes.

Another Roth-to-Rhoads change occurred later after Reuben Roth who had fought in the Civil War with the 176th Pennsylvania Infantry Regiment. His son A.J. Roth headed west and changed his name to Rhoads.

One Roth family in Pennsylvania who remained Roth (except for a son Peter) was the descendant line from Daniel Roth who had arrived from Switzerland in 1733 and settled in Lehigh, Pennsylvania. Christian Roth migrated with his family to Ohio as a young boy in 1821.

Nicolaus Roth was a Mennonite minister from Baden in Germany. He never made it to America. But his widow Veronica and children did in 1837, settling in Illinois. Son Daniel served as the minister of the Pleasant Grove Mennonite church at Tremont, Illinois; grandson Roy pastor of the Pleasant Hill church at East Peoria, Illinois.

Joseph Roth, also from Baden, came with his family in 1840, settling in Albany, New York. His son Henry worked on the railroads there.

William Roth had been born in Hawaii in 1880, the son of an Austrian immigrant. He married the heiress Lurlene Matson in 1913 and then joined the Matson shipping business. He built up a fleet of luxury liners that helped spur mass tourism to Waikiki. His son William was to carry on in the family business.

Jewish Roths came later. Among noteworthy arrivals were:

  • Emery Roth from Austria-Hungary in 1884, aged 13. He designed many of the distinctive New York hotels and apartment buildings of the 1920’s and 1930’s.
  • and Henry Roth also from Austria-Hungary in 1908, aged just two. Educated in New York, he became a writer, but with a writer’s block that lasted over fifty years.

Al Roth, the bridge player from the Bronx, and Philip Roth, the writer from Newark, were the sons of immigrant parents.  

Australia.  Adam Roth from Baden in Germany arrived in Sydney with his family in 1857. After working initially as a cooper, he bought land in the Mudgee district and established a winery on his Rothview property. The winery stayed with the Roth family until 1969.

Holocaust survivor Henry Roth arrived in Australia in 1947 and made a foray into the fashion industry, establishing the London Fashion outlet. He sold the chain after twenty years and invested in commercial properties. These were inherited by his sons John and Stanley when Roth died in 2000. The Roths are now amongst the richest families in Australia.

Roth Surname Miscellany

Roth Surname Explanations.  There have been a number of explanations of where the Roth surname originated.  The following are seven of them:

  • the spilling of red blood – derived from rot meaning “red” – from the warrior class of an ancient Germanic soldier
  • an ethnic name for an Anglo-Saxon, deriving also from rot, as they were often red-haired.
  • a name relating to the red color of clay in pottery a topographical name, derived from rod meaning “wood”, referencing someone who lived in or by a wood.
  • a derivative from the Germanic hroth meaning “fame.”
  • a derivative from roe in the ancient Danish language to signify “royal.”
  • and an ornamental name for 18th century Jewish Ashkenazi refugees to Germany.

Hans Roth of Rumisberg.  Hans Roth was a peasant farmer from Rumisberg in the Swiss canton of Bern who happened to be at the Gasthof Schlüssel in Wiedlisbach one November night in 1382 and eavesdropped on a plan by Count Rudolf von Kyburg to attack the town of Solothurn.

What should he do?  He did not think of going home.  He wanted to go the twelve miles to Solothurn and warn the citizens there.  But how?  In the freshly fallen snow, the count’s men would recognize his tracks as soon as he came out of the inn.  He decided to take off his wooden slippers and tie them upside down to his feet so that it looked as if someone was coming from Solothurn instead of vice versa.

Having arrived at the gates of Solothurn, Roth broke his promise not to “tell any living soul of the attack.”  He did not speak to anyone.  He spoke to the stony St. Urs statue instead.  But the nearby gatekeeper heard him and sounded the alarm. As the Kyburg approached Solothurn, they discovered that the town was already alerted and prepared for them.

The brave peasant Hans Roth of Rumisberg came as a consequence to high honor. As gratitude the town made him a dress in red and white.  He also received an Ehrensold of 94 talers.  And in each subsequent year the eldest of his descendants has received this Ehrensold.

US Roths by Origin and Roths in These Countries Today.  The table below shows:

  • the share of Roth arrivals in the US by country of origin (from ship-tracking records)
  • and the share of Roths in these countries today
US Arrivals ‘000’s Today
Germany   2,217    69%     70    89%
Hungary     442    14%      1     1%
Switzerland     364    11%      5     6%
Austria     163     6%      3     4%
Total   3,176     79

Germany predominates, even more today.

Mathias Roth in London.  Lajos Kossuth, the Hungarian revolutionary, had asked Mathias Roth who had moved to England in the 1840’s to be his envoy in Britain.  But Kossuth was in power for barely a year before he was forced to flee his country. Roth meanwhile stayed in Britain for the rest of his life.

A disciple in Hungary of Ling’s Swedish kinetic treatments, he was in London a well-known orthopaedic surgeon and homeopath with a practice at Wimpole Street.  He championed the improvements in medical health in his adopted country.

“Roth pointed out that the neglect of physical education and hygiene within the English education system was the principal cause in the decline in the general health of the nation. His vociferous arguments heralded the addition of medical health and social welfare to factors shaping developments in physical education.”

The influence of Ling was evident in the naming of two of his children:

  • Felix Ling Roth was a ship’s engineer who traded for tortoise shells and other exotic items up and down the Queensland Coast and around New Guinea.  He then served in the 1890’s in the medical service of the Niger Coast Protectorate in West Africa.
  • while Henry Ling Roth went to Australia in 1878 and stayed for a time in Queensland.  He spent more than a decade on anthropology studies there before returning to England as a museum curator in Yorkshire.

Christian Roth in Ohio.  Christian Roth had been born in Northampton county, Pennsylvania in 1813.  He was eight years old when his family traveled by covered wagon to new lands in Ohio. His father, grandfather and great grandfather had been Pennsylvania farmers.  He knew that his great grandfather had been scalped by Indians and that his grandfather had been a Commodore in the navy.

In 1827 his father purchased land west of Trenton, now the village of Tuscarawa, where they built their home. Christian Roth, according to a descendant, grew to manhood strong of build and of character.  A man of high morals, he was a respected citizen in his community.  He purchased the home farm which grew to 184 acres of well-cultivated land. He farmed and raised stock for many years and lived there until his death of dropsy at the age of seventy six.

Henry Roth and His Writer’s Block.  Henry Roth was born in Galicia in what was then the Austro-Hungarian empire in 1906 and came with his parents to New York two years later.  Educated at City College, he wrote his first novel Call It Sleep, an evocation of his childhood in New York, in 1934. While it is today regarded as a masterpiece of Jewish American literature, it came out at the time to mixed reviews.

After the book’s publication, Roth did begin work on a second novel.  But his growing ideological frustration and personal confusion created a profound writer’s block that lasted more than fifty years. Roth attributed his writer’s block to personal problems such as depression, and to political conflicts, including his disillusion with Communism and his break with Judaism.

With the onset of World War Two, Roth became a tool and gauge maker.  He moved in 1946 to Maine.  There he worked as a woodsman, a schoolteacher, a psychiatric attendant in the state mental hospital, a waterfowl farmer, and a Latin and math tutor.

Roth did not initially welcome the success of the 1964 reprint of Call It Sleep, valuing his privacy instead.  However, his writing block slowly began to break, particularly after his move to Albuquerque. He ended up producing his late-life autobiographical epic Mercy of a Rude Stream in 1994, one year before his death.

We learn from this book one additional reason why Roth had been paralyzed as a writer. He dared not write about the overwhelming fact of his adolescence, his incestuous relationships with his sister and cousin.

Philip Roth and Claire Bloom.  In 1983 Vogue magazine interviewed the writer Philip Roth who was then living in a “pastoral idyll” in Connecticut with the British actress Claire Bloom – whom he would go on to marry for four tumultuous years.

You can detect a hint of domestic unease in Cathleen Medwick’s profile piece. When Roth and Bloom sat outside together, it was not for companionship.  They read and Roth said “I say shh a lot.” Roth was ever the alpha.  He laid ground rules for the interview and answered some of the questions with obfuscating sarcasm. Bloom meanwhile was gamely transparent about her acting career; and she demurred once or twice to her boyfriend (“I mean,” she laughed, “that’s]what I tried to say, but not as well”).

Claire Bloom was 47 when she began her romance with Philip Roth. The opening scene of their relationship reads like a parody of the daily life of two cultivated New Yorkers, with Roth on his way to his psychoanalyst and Claire Bloom on her way to her yoga class.  Claire would write unsparingly about her subsequent marriage to Roth in her 1996 memoir Leaving the Doll’s House.

But she ended the memoir on a poignant note, describing one of her last meetings with her former husband in a restaurant in New York where they joked and laughed. Waxing lyrical, she mused about Philip Roth’s inviting her back to ”our beautiful 18th-century farmhouse,” now basking ”in the warm, fading light as never before.” But that scene, she confessed, is ”fiction.”

Roth Names

  • Mathias Roth was a well-known homeopathic medical practitioner in London in the mid-19th century. 
  • Al Roth was an American bridge player, considered one of the greatest of all time. 
  • Henry Roth, from Jewish roots, was a 20th century American novelist with a writer’s block. 
  • Philip Roth, also from Jewish roots, is an American novelist, one of the most awarded writers of his generation.

Roth Numbers Today

  • 28,000 in America (most numerous in California)
  • 3,000 elsewhere (most numerous in UK)

Roth and Like Surnames 

The first wave of German immigration into America came in the early 1700’s from the Rhine Palatine and Switzerland.  They were fleeing religious persecution at home.  Most ended up in Pennsylvania, bringing their Mennonite church with them.  Some went to the Mohawk Valley in upstate New York.  Their Germanic names often changed under English rule to English-style names.  Thus Fischer became Fisher, Schneider Snyder, Hubner Hoover and so forth.

The reasons for immigration were different in the 19th century – in search of a better life, sometimes to avoid the draft.  They came from all German states and went not just to Pennsylvania but all over as the middle and west of the country was opening up.  And they brought German skills with them, notably beer-making.

Here are some of the notable German surnames in America that you can check out.


Written by Colin Shelley

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